Wendell Armbrister aka Swain, of Abaco, Bahamas grew up in Nassau and did not find his way back to Freeport to reside until 1974. "When I first came to Freeport playing music with Ezra of Ezra and The Polkadots in the late sixties, I did not like it. Couldn't wait to get out of there. " (Armbrister, 2004)
After a visit with his sister for two weeks in 1974, he decided to stay. This marked the beginning of a long and successful musical career in Freeport, known as The Bahamas’ second capital. Swain joined the group "Skinner & Company" that played the local clubs in Freeport, playing drums. Shortly eafter, Skinner decided to leave the group and Swain took over. This brought about the birth of "Swain & The Citations". Swain had never received any formal training on the drum set but says that it came naturally for him.
During those years, entertainers such as Ezra, Chris Finlayson, and Basil Leslie were all employed within the city of Freeport in clubs like "The Conch Shell", "Sand Piper", and "Kiki Rouge" where popular group T-Connection first performed upon their arrival from Nassau. Swain and his band were kept very busy also. They would begin their musical journey at "The Lobster House", and from 1977 to 1982, they performed in the West End area of Grand Bahama. While there, they worked at "The Inner Circle” and then a small night club owned by a Mr. Neely, and following that, a club owned by Pete DeGregory. At the culmination of Swain's time in West End, he and his group would spend some time employed at the "Jack Tar Hotel".
After leaving West End, "The Back Room" would host Swain's group for about one year after which they appeared at the "Safari Lounge". Swain, by this time had already developed quite a reputation for his brand of "Bush" (calypso) music. "We were well known for calypso music and golden oldies songs. They tried to get us to change but we wouldn't do that." (Armbrister, 2004)
Swain attributes his love and appreciation for calypso music to "The Mighty Sparrow", the unequalled Caribbean calypsonian from Trinidad. “In fact,” he mused, “one of the first recordings that I did entitled Sandra, and people thought that I composed the song. It really was a Sparrow song.” (Armbrister, 2004) Still, Swain’s version of the song was a hit in The Bahamas, and to this day, many think it is an original work.
The golden oldies were also a big part of Swain’s repertoire. This also stemmed from his past as part of "The Mighty Makers" in Nassau before moving to Freeport. As one of the group’s vocalists, he often sang songs recorded by Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and other popular American singers from the golden oldies era.
One local singer that influenced him was childhood friend Tony Seymour. He and Tony attended St. Joseph’ School together and remained very close friends throughout their lives.
The author of this project recalls many enjoyable evenings working at "The Connection Room" between 1978 and 1981, as a member of one of two bands (Swain & The Citations and a band called Willpower) alternating throughout each evening. Of course, Swain’s repertoire would consist mostly of calypso, reggae, and other island rhythms while Willpower played a wider mix of popular music which included the same. This would have happened shortly after T-Connection went on tour and moved to the United States.
Swain completed many recordings over the years, a few at GBI Recording Studio with Frank Penn, and others at Jay Mitchell's recording studio. His band was also featured at many Family Island Regattas. In fact, their last performance as a band took place at the Long Island Regatta in 1990. Tragically, following that performance, his guitarist Henry Garland, anxious to return to Freeport, got on a chartered flight and departed before the rest of the band. The following day, Swain went on to Nassau and while there, received the bad news that Garland, his guitarist, had been murdered during a robbery at his home. This was devastating news to Swain. "I ended up in hospital due to a mild heart attack." (Armbrister, 2004) Sadly, this case has not been solved to date.
This event also prompted Swain to give his life to the Lord in March of 2003. The remainder of the group never played together again following that tragic loss. Swain confesses to missing playing with his group. “Those were great times, and we did well! he exclaimed. However, he now performs at his church and recently released his first gospel album. His intended focus now is on recording and performing traditional gospel songs. Much like the old days, he prefers the old songs from the hymnals.
Swain encourages young people to get into their own Bahamian music. “We have lost a whole lot of our musical heritage since the early eighties,” he states, submitting his recommendation that the Government needs to step in and make it mandatory that multi million dollar hotel projects provide live entertainment for their guests. “If these things could happen, maybe the future of music in our Bahamas would look brighter. This of course has been the talk for decades. In fact, most of them do upon their arrival to The Bahamas. But slowly, and surely, entertainment is the first thing to get cut as time goes by. Huge properties all over the Bahamas make little contribution by way of hiring bands on a week to week basis,” explains Swain.
Swain & The Citations have made their contribution to the development of music in Grand Bahama However, it is sad that at this time all over our country there are not many young bands coming up to continue this legacy. Maybe after reading about the many opportunities that can be gained through music, some of our youth will follow the footsteps of "Swain & The Citations".